John Miller’s Open Letter to Mark Steyn

By: Contributor · November 23, 2008 · Filed Under Media Law · 6 Comments 

John  Miller, a journalism professor at Ryerson University, posted a series of open letters on the Maclean’s controversy.  His most recent one, Open letter to Steyn, documents plagiarism and gross errors of fact.

See also his previous posts:

Will Canada’s only national news magazine continue to keep on an author of such poor journalistic integrity?  What does this say about the editors that allowed this poorly researched material to be published?

h/t Big City Lib

Updates

The quote in question [as opposed to the book] is a proven hoax.

Aside from faulty translations by translators unknown even to the publishers, experts who were approached to do the intro refused on the basis of questionable authenticity and misrepresentation. The bulk of the work is not even authored by Khomeini himself, and the experts strongly advised against publication.

Tony Hendra, the Bantam Books editor who previously worked as a comedian and then an editor for National Lampoon, has said publicly,

I can understand why people might look at my background [and lack of familiarity in this area] and think that it’s a hoax. But if it’s a hoax, I am the one that has been hoaxed.

Hendra has gone on since to write The Great White Hype, and work as editor-in-chief for Spy magazine. Good entertainment, but not the stuff of well-researched peer-reviewed publications.

What’s even more interesting is that the quote in question doesn’t even exist in the Farsi original, according to the former director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. There is good reason that this source has rarely been cited by credible scholars and academics in the field.

So much for responsible and accurate journalism by Canada’s only national news magazine. The responsibility for catching that journalistic blunder, 25 years after it has been discredited, falls squarely on the shoulders of the editors, who we’ve been told do read this site.

See the post at Big City Lib on the info we leaked to him.

We’re more interested in an apology by the publishers rather than Steyn himself, for the reasons expressed above.

Update 2

Steyn’s reponse best clarifies the need for responsible journalism.

We can’t blame him for his background as a high-school dropout, but it seems his education is based on a Persian girlfriend, and a right-wing radical who has violated the Swiss criminal code for racist content that he “adores.”

Steyn refuses to acknowledge it as a hoax because he is still unfamiliar with the source documents in their original language, no matter how many translations and jpegs he provides of books. We’re pretty sure he didn’t learn Farsi in high school. We still want a citation of the quote from a Western academic in a reputable journal, only because leading academics over a quarter of a century ago who do speak Farsi said the quote simply did not exist in the Farsi original (though may have existed in Farsi duplicates, i.e. the one Steyn cites, that may include unverified extraneous material).

This process is revealing enough, because Steyn has demonstrated that his (mis)information about this “very important issue” is not an informed one. He also conveniently ignores that all of his citations are deliberately taken out of context; nowhere is bestiality justified – it’s actually abhorred, and measures cited are punitive.

Citing factually inaccurate information as authoritative is actually just as bad as saying it yourself. He has yet to cite a single academic journal that uses the quote he references. He does go beyond simply citing Fallaci, suggesting that rising Muslim immigration would be accompanied by beastiality,

This, it seems to me, is the most valuable contribution of Oriana Fallaci’s work. I enjoy the don’t-eat-your-sexual-partner stuff as much as the next infidel, but the challenge presented by Islam is not that the cities of the Western world will be filling up with sheep-shaggers.
[emphasis added]

We expect this from high school dropouts, but not from Canada’s national news magazine.

He then tries to provide surrounding material to further lend credibility to his erroneous quote. Our response to that would be to again cite the original debunking listed above. Ivan Nabakov, director of the French publisher the Bantam book was based on, and who acknowledged their inability to independently verify the authenticity of the text, said,

The only unfair thing about the book, is that you could do the exact same thing with the Talmud if you wanted to. A 40-page extract from that could have people rolling on the ground with laughter.

We tend to afford world religions more respect than that on our site. Bantam’s chairman, Marc Jaffe, also cited in the same article, would seem to agree,

I wouldn’t want to put any religion up for ridicule.

Cheap jokes, even “en passant,” can lead to false prejudices and hate crimes when presented in this way. Physical security and workplace discrimination are not things we can lightly dismiss. The publishers of Canada’s national news magazine should know better, and the editors should be more vigilant when the best citations for their star author are right-wing blogs.
Update 3

It seems Steyn is still going on about this.  Oh yeah, that’s what he does for a living.

Let’s clarify a few points:

  • Steyn has yet to identify a reputable scholar writing in a peer-reviewed journal that he based his article on when doing the original research
  • Not only did he not go to college, he did not finish high school either
  • Nowhere above do we actually cite a green or blue little book (we only link to Miller’s assertions)
  • We have academics stating in print over 25 years ago that:
  1. the specific quote he uses about sheep-shagging does not exist in their Farsi originals
  2. Farsi originals do exist that attribute quotes to him that are taken from other sources
  3. editors and publishers all relied on second hand sources and were unable to verify its authenticity

Our position of the quote being a hoax is based on the reluctance of these scholars at that time to either authenticate or uses these quotes out of their original context.  Steyn took our bait and has indicated that when he wrote this piece he did not engage in any serious academic research.  He relied on a) a convicted indicted hate criminal b) a Persian girlfriend.  He finally suggests looking up experts now to verify his Farsi translation, and the veracity of his Farsi original.

The point, which he seems to miss, is that he should have done this before putting the quote into print.  He seems unaware that the veracity of the quote was even questioned, despite the time lapse between this time and his article.  We could care less if it’s true or not; there’s not much to laugh at when placed in context and when contrasted to other Abrahamic faiths.  What we do care is that the editor’s at Canada’s national news magazine did not appear to provide enough editorial scrutiny at the time of publication.  His showdown, ‘you pick someone and I’ll pick someone,’ should have happened with the editorial staff before any of this went into print.

As with so much of Steyn’s work, his approach is highly reminiscent of other racists in history who would denigrate religion by removing context, using faulty translations, and even fraudulent materials, to encourage hatred towards a domestic minority.  His position that Western women should be the breeding grounds for his version of civilization is chauvinistic enough without him making reference to female undergarments towards a mixed gender team.

Perhaps these editors, and the Steyn fans, care to comment about all of this on his site.  Oh that’s right, he doesn’t allow comments at all, anywhere.

Update 4

Steyn seems to have a difficult time reading, so we’ll spell it out for him, yet again.

We make no personal representations of the accuracy of any quote or book, anywhere here.  We do cite reputable experts that note that the specific quote he uses has been forged in at least one copy.  They note other Farsi copies include extraneous material, meaning someone else wrote it but they include it in the same book. More recently, we demonstrated that the specific Farsi translation Steyn claims to use is greatly flawed.

None of this matters, and is a distraction from the real issue at hand (even though he fails to address these points).

What we have pointed out is that Steyn did not do any real research before writing about this”very important issue” (or reproducing it) in Canada’s only national news magazine.  We’ve noted repeatedly that he did not even finish high school.  Not to belittle him the way he belittles others.  But to point out that someone with that little formal education is hardly qualified to make accurate assessments about any global issues.  Indeed, he has gone on the record a number of times and has been proven grossly wrong.

The problem here is with the editorial staff that afford him complete leeway to write absolutely anything he wants, unverified, unchecked, and without so much as a second thought.  This is part of the reason that Prof. Moon suggests the creation of mandatory press councils, because there are times when the press themselves behave in an irresponsible way.  Canadian readers depend on them for accurate and well-thought out information, not cheap laughs that can result in hate crimes.

And because we know you are reading this we say, “shame on you, editors of these publications.”

Comments

6 Responses to “John Miller’s Open Letter to Mark Steyn”

  1. Jay Currie on November 25th, 2008 9:58 pm

    What’s fun about Miller is that he simply has no idea what he is talking about. The particular book Steyn was referring to is well known to people who pay attention to the writings of the Shi’ite hierarchy. Miller’s attempt to smear Steyn has entirely backfired and his persistence in beclowning himself has made him a laughing stock.

    The poor man should simply have the grace to retire from Ryerson and avoid engaging in blog battles he has no chance of winning. He is far too used to the days when “journalists” could write their version of the truth without risk of contradiction much less “fisking”. Miller’s train has left the station.

  2. Ali S on November 25th, 2008 10:40 pm

    well known to people who pay attention to the writings of the Shi’ite hierarchy…

    And that would be you?

    Somehow reactionary, right-wing blog are not the most credible sources.

  3. Cheryl Boglarsky on November 30th, 2008 10:54 am

    I think this “give-and-take” is incredible. Please see Steyn’s rebuttal http://www.steynonline.com/content/view/1516/26

  4. MShah on November 30th, 2008 12:53 pm

    The only unfair thing about the book, is that you could do the exact same thing with the Talmud if you wanted to.

    Does that mean Steyn is going to start quoting the Talmud in the same way?

    Nah, that will probably result in a hate crime.

  5. david on November 30th, 2008 3:33 pm

    Excuse me, guys. The book you are claiming was debunked, the Little Green Book, may indeed have been debunked. But perhaps you should have spent a little more time reading Steyn’s reply than you spent cutting and pasting from it. Steyn wasn’t quoting from The Little Green Book. He was quoting from a scholarly translation of the Resaleh. Here is the full bibliographic entry for the book on the Middle East Institute’s Research Guide on Ruhollah Khomeini: ” A Clarification of Questions: An Unabridged Translation of Resaleh Towzih al-Masael.” Translation by J. Borujerdi. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984. 432p. / BP 194.2 K4813 1984.”

    So I’m sorry Steyn doesn’t give you a citation to an academic translating those words in a scholarly journal. He can only give you a citation to a scholarly translation of the original book by the great man himself. As I recall, in the heirarchy of sources that would be considered a step up.

    The debunking you cite above appears to refer to a different book. Now that that’s straight, perhaps you could go back to Steyn’s article and respond to what is actually there?


    Law is Cool:

    We do not have to respond to what he says. Our source above indicates there were many “scholarly” works that were unattributable along with the book in question, and his response does not substantiate his sources objectively. The experts specifically cited the quote Steyn reproduced as being a hoax, over 25 years before he ripped it from Fallaci.

    Our point remains irrespective of any source, which remain unsubstantiated by any accredited scholar to date, Steyn irresponsibily used the quote for a cheap laugh.

    This also revealed his research process, which consisted of dating people of a Persian background, and the poor editorial scrutiny afforded to his work. Just because something is written in Farsi does not mean it’s authentic either.

  6. Jobius on November 30th, 2008 3:46 pm

    Steyn may not have gone to college, but he’s proved himself a better fact checker than Journalism Doctor John “There is no Blue Book” Miller.

    And spare us the humorless hand-wringing about cheap jokes leading to “false prejudices and hate crimes.” Levitical dietary laws are inherently funny, whether in the original or the Islamic version. Would you censor Woody Allen for his joke about some scholars believing that the Torah merely suggested not eating pork at certain restaurants?

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